Regardless of how the Yankees replace Nick Swisher in right field this winter, they’re going to need to bring in a right-handed outfield bat. Brett Gardner and Curtis Granderson are both left-handed and you can make a case either guy needs a platoon partner, plus the club has to replace some of the righty power they’re losing as Alex Rodriguez ages and Swisher (and potentially Russell Martin) heads elsewhere.
About two weeks ago we learned the Yankees “continue to have conversations” with free agent outfielder Scott Hairston, the younger brother of former Yankee Jerry Hairston Jr. The 32-year-old Scott is coming off a career year with the Mets (.263/.299/.504, 118 wRC+) and is well-known for his ability to pound left-handed pitching. Just ask Gio Gonzalez or Cole Hamels or Cliff Lee or Hamels again, they’ll tell you. Let’s see if Jerry’s little brother is a fit for the outfield-needy Yankees.
- Hairston will be paid to hit lefties, and he does it very well. He produced a .286/.317/.550 (135 wRC+) batting line against southpaws this year and a .263/.308/.464 (110 wRC+) batting line over the last three years.
- Although he is known as a platoon player, Hairston can at least hold his own against righties. He hit .239/.281/.457 (100 wRC+) against them this year and .218/.289/.420 (96 wRC+) over the last three years. You can live with that from a fourth outfielder.
- Hairston came up as an infielder but has since moved to the outfield full time, and the various metrics rate him as an average defender in left and a tick below (but still playable in a pinch) in center.
- It’s not a big part of his game, but Hairston can steal the occasional base. He swiped eight bags in ten tries this year and 15 in 19 tries over the last three years. He’s also about average when it comes to taking the extra base.
- Hairston obviously has some experience playing in New York given his two years with the Mets, plus they did not make him a qualifying offer. He won’t require draft pick compensation to sign.
- If he doesn’t get a hit, he’s not going to reach base. Hairston is a hacker who walked in just 4.8% of his plate appearances this year and 6.9% over the last three years. He’s consistently swung at ~30% of the pitches seen outside of the strike zone, leading to a below-average strikeout rate (21.2% since 2010).
- Hairston has been on the DL seven times since making his debut in 2004, including once a year from 2005 through 2011. Most of the injuries were various strains (oblique, hamstring, quad, etc.), but he did have some more serious shoulder problems earlier in his career. He did avoid injury this year, however.
- He’s limited to left because he can’t throw to save his life — this little rainbow is about the best you’re going to get from his arm. Maybe the early-career shoulder problems are to blame. Hairston only has about 446.1 career innings in right field.
Jonny Gomes did Hairston a favor by signing a two-year, $10M contract with the Red Sox and setting the market for right-handed platoon outfielders. The Yankees are looking to get under the $189M luxury tax threshold by 2014, so therefore any multi-year contract has to be viewed through the prism of average annual value and its impact on next year’s payroll limit. Assuming he signs a contract similar to Gomes, Hairston will be a very pricy fourth outfielder at $4-5M annually.
I liked the younger Hairston quite a bit two years ago, when the Yankees opted to instead sign Andruw Jones to serve as their left-handed pitching masher. Jones worked out wonderfully in 2011 but didn’t help at all this season. We’ve gathered some more data on Hairston these last two years and I do worry quite a bit about his complete reliance on power. If he stops hitting the ball out of the park, he’ll be useless offensively because he never walks and only hits for a decent average. Jones, for example, still drew more walks than Hairston this year (28-19) in 108 fewer plate appearances. Imagine second half Andruw without the walks, and that’s what you’re getting from Hairston when the bat speed starts to slip.
With Gomes signed and Reed Johnson slipping with age, the free agent outfield market is devoid of quality right-handed platoon bats. I’d love to think Brian Cashman & Co. could get Hairston to sign a one-year contract like they have so many veterans the last few years, but he’s been a fringe roster player for most of his career and he’s coming off the best season of his life, so I have to think he’ll look to parlay that into the biggest payday possible. Hairston makes a ton of sense for the Yankees, but he’s a risky (and limited) player who will command multiple years as a free agent.